NFL Draft 2014: Remembering Why Teddy Bridgewater Is a Top QB Prospect

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NFL Draft 2014: Remembering Why Teddy Bridgewater Is a Top QB Prospect
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Even in a draft with Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has become the most talked-about prospect of the 2014 NFL draft.

It's not hard to find a strong opinion on the 21-year-old and his potential fit in the NFL. Whether it's worrying about his small hands (even though his hands are larger than Ryan Tannehill's and Colin Kaepernick's), picking apart his pro day or celebrating his status atop your quarterback rankings, everyone has an opinion.

This time of the season can be tough to understand.

The focus shifts from evaluating prospects to talking about storylines that will come up during the draft itself. While that is happening, agents and franchises attempt to feed lies and smokescreens to the media that blur what is true and what is false.

With that in mind, it's a good time to remind ourselves of why Bridgewater was considered a top prospect before the draft process began.

 

Footwork/Mechanics/Pocket Presence

Bridgewater is a pocket passer. He has very consistent, refined mechanics and footwork that complement his ability to maneuver and manipulate the pocket.

This is often an area in which young quarterbacks struggle early in their careers. Some, such as Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, are more advanced when they enter the league. Bridgewater should be considered alongside those quarterbacks, if not above.

Even though footwork, mechanics and pocket presence are rarely featured on highlight reels, they are integral aspects of what makes a quarterback successful in the NFL.

Throwing the ball begins with balance and balance is determined by the precision of your footwork. Throughout his final season in college, it was very difficult to find points when Bridgewater was off balance releasing the ball or not in a good position to begin his throwing motion.

That is because of how quick and precise his footwork is.

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On this play, Bridgewater throws the ball down the right sideline to a receiver that is wide open. The receiver is open because the defensive back assigned to him in man coverage fell down earlier in the route.

While he didn't need to make a precise throw to a well-covered receiver, this was still not a simple throw because of the play as a whole.

Bridgewater must hold on to the ball to give the route combinations time to stretch the defense. This became clear on the All-22 replay. However, he can't simply stand in one spot and step into his throw because his offensive line is giving up the integrity of his pocket.

While keeping his eyes downfield, Bridgewater feels the pressure and bounces on the balls of his feet. Importantly, even as he adjusts backward before letting the ball go, the quarterback's feet maintain his balance and allow him to put his weight into the pass.

This prevents the ball from floating away from the open receiver, something that happens regularly when quarterbacks don't show this kind of discipline with their feet.

Adjusting to interior pressure is very tough for even the better quarterbacks currently playing in the NFL. Bridgewater does that well, but it's also important to be able to step up into the pocket when the pressure comes off the edges.

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This play shows off the young quarterback's willingness to keep his eyes down the field while he feels the pressure coming from outside. After carrying out a deep drop that included a play fake to the running back, the offensive line has settled to the left side but is struggling on his right.

Bridgewater steps up in the pocket to help his right-side blockers, but the defensive end makes a good move to come back toward him.

Sensing the free defender approaching him, Bridgewater adjusts his path before bringing his eyes to his open receiver to the right. As he is about to start his throwing motion, Bridgewater keeps moving forward an extra step while squaring his shoulders and feet to his receiver.

This clean base allows him a simple throw.

Throwing the ball accurately while moving forward in the pocket is a trait that Andrew Luck has highlighted the value of in recent times. However, Bridgewater's clean mechanics also translate to plays when he is asked to move laterally, outside of the pocket.

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Bridgewater is a decent athlete, not a spectacular one who will break off huge plays with his scrambling ability at the next level. He has the strength to shed tackles at times, and he will quickly eat up any space that is afforded him.

His mobility is really a strength when throwing the ball on rollouts or extending plays behind the line of scrimmage before throwing the ball downfield.

His comfort throwing on the move is born out of his good footwork and good mechanics. He doesn't force passes from uncomfortable angles because he doesn't put himself in uncomfortable positions. He regularly squares his shoulders to the line of scrimmage and is able to maintain his velocity and accuracy while on the move.

Individually, each of these traits is impressive, but when they are brought together, Bridgewater makes difficult plays look very straightforward and even so simple that it's easy to understand why some consider him incapable of being an exciting playmaker. 

This is not an easy play. Too often, in this situation NFL quarterbacks will drop their eyes and look to scramble as soon as his right tackle is beaten. Other times, those quarterbacks won't even recognize that their tackle is beaten fast enough to avoid a sack.

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Bridgewater's pocket presence/awareness allows him to immediately recognize that the integrity of his pocket is compromised. That quick recognition allows him to subtly slide to the right. He doesn't turn his back to the line of scrimmage or take a deep drop to evade the rusher; he slides sideways.

The difference is important to note because the maneuver allows him to be very quick, so as to not disrupt the timing of the offense, and it allows him to keep his eyes downfield.

For a very short moment after leaving the pocket, Bridgewater settles his feet again while looking to his receiver by the sideline. That receiver is covered, so Bridgewater continues moving forward and takes his eyes to his second read down the field.

From here, he throws an accurate pass downfield while again showing off impressive mechanics.

Bridgewater is considered the boring quarterback of the top three—the quarterback who doesn't have an incredibly high ceiling because he doesn't make crazy plays like Manziel and doesn't have major mechanical flaws that allow for growth like Blake Bortles.

Generally, boring is good at the quarterback position. For all the praise that Russell Wilson receives as a playmaker, he is as good as he is because he is also very intelligent in the pocket and refined mechanically.

Because he can do the more difficult things before he releases the ball, Bridgewater's throws are often less highlight-worthy because they come with a lower degree of difficulty.

He plays within his offense exceptionally well, a trait that every team wants from their quarterback.

 

Quick Release

To go along with his precise footwork and clean mechanics, Bridgewater has a very quick release. He generally doesn't waste motion before throwing the football and this is highlighted by his release.

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Draftbreakdown.com
Draftbreakdown.com

When put under pressure, Bridgewater does speed up his throwing motion, but he does not alter it unless he absolutely has to. This keeps the release angle of the football consistent and allows him to sustain his accuracy.

Nothing is rushed, but everything is done with haste.

 

Progression

Any pocket passer needs to be able to survey the whole field and make decisions based on the progression of the pass play. While we don't know what Bridgewater's progression is on any given play and we can't see the decisions he is making without the All-22 angle, we can see his comfort moving from receiver to receiver.

Many young quarterbacks don't go to their second receiver consistently when they think their first receiver is covered. Bridgewater consistently went to his second and third options without panicking during his time at Louisville.

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On 3rd-and-23, Bridgewater takes a deep drop before stepping up into a clean pocket. He understands that he has time, because the defensive ends were so fast to rush upfield, and he must hold on to the ball because he needs to give his receivers time to get to the first-down marker.

The offense comes out with two receivers to the left, two to the right and a back behind Bridgewater in the pistol. The quarterback keeps his eyes on his receivers to the left as they release into their routes. However, after moving back into the pocket from his deep drop, he brings his eyes to the right sideline.

As he continues to move forward he appears to look back toward the middle of the field, where he ultimately sees his back in space underneath.

That back doesn't get the first down, but he comes very close and gives the special teams unit more space to alter field position. On 3rd-and-23, it was the smartest play available to him if he didn't like any of the throws down the field.

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Draftbreakdown.com

During his final season in college football, Bridgewater attempted 427 passes and threw just four interceptions.

For the sake of comparison, Johnny Manziel threw 13 interceptions on 429 attempts despite having Mike Evans as a target and throwing more than twice as many screen passes. Blake Bortles threw nine interceptions on only 382 attempts while also throwing more than twice as many screen passes.

Bridgewater wasn't working with exceptional talent at the receiver position while at Louisville. He dealt with many, many drops and players who didn't consistently create separation.

His low interception rate was a direct result of his ability before he releases the football. His footwork, mechanics, pocket presence, quick release and, most importantly, his ability to move from receiver to receiver allowed him to avoid throwing the ball into bad situations.

 

Composure

Having the talent to not turn the ball over is one thing, but having the composure to consistently play to that talent is another. Judging a player's demeanor is dangerous territory that doesn't really give you hard evidence to suggest what the player is actually feeling.

Instead of focusing on Bridgewater's demeanor, something that does come across as calm, his composure can be seen in how he reacts to situations and sustains his performance and concentration throughout games.

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This play is a simple screen pass, but it requires Bridgewater to quickly release the ball after turning his head with defenders in his face. While we can see the pass rush coming clean from the camera angle, Bridgewater only sees the immediate defender in his face when he turns around.

The speed at which he adjusts to throw the ball at a higher point and still find the receiver in the perfect position is impressive.

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On this play, the defense appears to be blitzing from the left side. The perfect play call to catch Bridgewater in the backfield as he rolls out with his back turned from the play action to that side. Despite having two defenders in his face, Bridgewater doesn't panic.

He uses a quick pump fake to take the defender off his feet and create a clean throwing lane to dump the ball into the flat.

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This play combines both elements of the first two plays, while also reiterating Bridgewater's excellent ability to throw on the move.

These are the kinds of plays that quarterbacks make when they are full of confidence and locked in during a strong performance. As standalone examples, they are not worth a huge amount; however, within the context of Bridgewater's displays, they highlight his strengths because this is what he does all the time.

It's very difficult to rattle Bridgewater as a quarterback, and because he consistently makes plays like these, you must give him the benefit of the doubt when it's unclear.

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Bridgewater isn't so small that he needs to create throwing lanes all the time, but he does do it very well when he must. On this play, we can see that the receiver is open from his release, because he runs underneath the slot receiver who runs down the field.

Even though he is in a clean pocket and looking directly at the open receiver to whom he will ultimately throw the ball, Bridgewater waits until he gets to the top of his drop and releases the ball just before the defender gets to him.

Relying on his quick release, the defender doesn't effect his throw. More importantly, Bridgewater is able to throw the ball through the huge throwing lane that appears to the left side of the offensive line. He didn't have to try attempt to loft it over his center, right guard and the defensive linemen trying to push the pocket.

Again, Bridgewater takes the more difficult route before the throw to make the throw itself easier.

 

Under Pressure 

Because of his quick release and ability to make pre-snap reads, Bridgewater should be able to avoid a lot of unnecessary pressure in the NFL. However, every quarterback who sustains success over seasons will ultimately have to deal with pressure in the pocket.

Unsurprisingly, Bridgewater handles pressure with ease.

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Draftbreakdown.com

He doesn't shy away from contact and stands in to deliver the ball even when he knows he is going to be hit. On this play, he throws a perfect back-shoulder pass to his receiver running down the seam despite having a defender bearing down on him.

Avoiding negative plays as a quarterback is very important and it's not simply about avoiding interceptions. If you can punish a defense that tries to be aggressive through blitzes or disguised pass rushes, it demoralizes each individual defender and makes the opposing coach more reluctant to attack.

Draftbreakdown.com
Draftbreakdown.com

Because he can comfortably work in a tight pocket, adjust his mechanics or release point and is willing to take a hit, Bridgewater should be able to consistently produce against pressure in the NFL.

 

Arm Talent

There is a perception of Bridgewater that suggests he lacks great arm talent. There are throws where his small hands do appear to affect his control over the football, but for the most part, he maintains excellent velocity and throws accurate passes to every area of the field.

He is exceptionally consistent throwing to intermediate routes, but less consistent throwing farther down the field. That would be a major concern, but a lack of consistency isn't a lack of ability and the consistency isn't so bad that it suggests Bridgewater will follow in the footsteps of Geno Smith early in his career.

Be it short-throw velocity...

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...or deep-throw velocity and control...

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...Bridgewater has more than enough arm strength to be very effective at the professional level. 

Arm strength is important in the NFL, but having an arm like Matthew Stafford's or Joe Flacco's isn't as valuable as having great control over the football and an understanding of how to use the velocity you can create on the ball.

That, more than anything else for Bridgewater purely as a passer, should allow him to be a productive passer in the NFL.

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On this play, we see an obvious example of how Bridgewater understands the importance of ball placement. He leads his receiver to the sideline, away from the incoming defender, by placing the ball above his outside shoulder.

Not only does he have to use his velocity to push the ball past the receiver, but he has to put it in a spot where the receiver will catch it and comfortably break into stride down the sideline.

These kinds of plays are very important for moving the chains consistently. It's something that Bridgewater does on a regular basis. The question mark over his arm primarily points to his ability to push the ball down the field accurately. His ability to create big plays.

While there is some inconsistency throwing down the field, Bridgewater can make some of the toughest throws asked of him.

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At first glance, this throw appears to be slightly overthrown and the receiver is forced to adjust. However, when you follow the flight of the football and note the replay, it's clear that Bridgewater arced the trajectory of the ball to get it over the underneath defender.

The fact that this pass was catchable at all speaks to how well he can control the trajectory of his passes and understands that he can't simply try to throw past defenders all the time.

Having the ability to loop the ball over defenders and get the ball down quickly is as valuable as having a huge arm that can throw the ball 40-plus yards downfield. This especially comes into focus when throwing down both sidelines.

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On this play, Bridgewater perfectly times and places his pass for the receiver to run underneath. The receiver has to make an impressive, one-handed reception, but that is because of the coverage rather than the throw.

The throw was perfect.

When you combine Bridgewater's arm talent with his ability to throw with anticipation...

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...and his ability to throw on the move...

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Draftbreakdown.com

...it's very unlikely that his arm talent will hold him back at the next level.

Talk of Bridgewater's frame, hand size, weight, pro day and individual workouts will continue to take center stage as we lead up to the draft. However, once the draft comes and goes, one team is going to be very happy with the quarterback that it takes to training camp in August.

Bridgewater was considered a top prospect because of his ability to comfortably and consistently make the plays the offense was designed to make.

Quarterbacks who consistently excel within the design of their offenses are the quarterbacks who elevate the pieces around them the most. Much like a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, a huge percentage of what Bridgewater does throughout his career will be subtle and overlooked by those who crave highlight-reel-worthy plays.

The disconnect between those who see a boring quarterback that only makes the plays he is supposed to make and those who see a potential star lies within those subtleties.

 

Cian Fahey is the Film Room writer for FootballOutsiders, a columnist for FootballGuys.com and a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on twitter @Cianaf

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